Damning new information has come to light about systematic disregard for civilian casualties in U.S. airstrikes on Syria. Reporting by the New York Times revealed the existence of a shadowing U.S. military unit called Talon Anvil, responsible for identifying targets for airstrikes.
Talon Anvil directed over 112,000 bombs and missiles between 2014 and 2019, ostensibly targeting ISIS, but in many cases only murdering Syrian civilians. The new report is related to a previous article that showed how the U.S. military covered up the deaths of 64 Syrian civilians.
The investigation also disclosed that various intelligence officials expressed alarm about how Talon Anvil lacked oversight and that top commanders swept concerns under the rug. Targeting decisions could be made by low-ranking members of the unit, and Talon Anvil frequently attacked on the basis of questionable intelligence without confirmation about the presence of noncombatants. Every year of the unit’s operation saw an increase in civilian casualties.
Top military brass like Gen. Stephen J. Townsend ignored the mounting death toll — essentially sanctioning these killings by keeping Talon Anvil in active operation. In 2016, Gen. Townsend took overall command of the U.S. war against ISIS and shifted tactics to speed up strikes. To achieve this, he gave low-level commanders on the ground authority over targeting decisions. Townsend now is the head of the U.S. military’s Africa Command (AFRICOM).
In a 2016 speech, President Obama claimed in reference to Syria: “With our extraordinary technology, we’re conducting the most precise air campaign in history. … And so when there are allegations of civilian casualties, we take them very seriously. We work to find the facts, to be transparent, and to hold ourselves accountable for doing better in the future.” But in reality, throughout Talon Anvil’s operation the U.S. military routinely killed innocent civilians with impunity and neglected any accountability for such suffering. The United States’ image as the global enforcer of human rights and democracy is exposed as an utter farce by the true cost of the war on Syria.